Ramblin' Dan's Workshop

The Sanctum of Fine Art and Invention

The Concept

boatpixThis is not a new idea except for me. I have already seen evidence that it has been done before. In fact it has been done many times before, but for different intentions. In my searches I have seen a tiny foam slab version from Italy and a full human size version from Austria and even a version made from soda bottles.

Oh! What is it? I am contemplating the design and construction of a hobby type robotic controlled model boat. Hence the name RoboBoat for robotic boat. That word not original but hey, it's a small world. It's not a copyright of which I am aware and because it is published here and used elsewhere, I claim it is in the public domain. I will use it in the generic sense, for all boats of this type.

My idea is not the typical Radio Controlled model. They use timed variable width pulse signals from a transmitter directly controlling linear servos connected to a receiver. This old method has been state of the art radio control for many decades. This is not authentic real world ship control.

I am considering an on board computer controlled model boat with a wireless network connection to the model boat captain on shore. The connection will be a two way high speed data exchange. I am imagining things that can be done that will take maybe years discuss and explore. (The reason for this Blog.) The sweet thing is the technology to do this is off the shelf.

I see motor and rudder control of course, but how about including speed, course, motor temperature visible on the monitor of the captain on shore? With on board GPS and compass, a lot of position information is available for semi-autonomous operation and to send back to the control station on shore.

This will be a form of model boating for the nerds and the computer programmers. Maybe a cooperative effort between the robot builders and the scale watercraft builders.

I think I may be both.

In any case, I want to stir up some interest in discussions about the concept and perhaps form an idea exchange for others who would like to tackle a project like this. The first step I see is to choose a communication system. Maybe at first, one way control like R/C but then open this oyster up for all the wild ideas a two way data network can fulfill.

I have found considerable information about robotic boats and even submarines. I posted a URL for a website (The AUVSIfoundation) in one of my other blogs, Ramblin’Dan. The AUVSIfoundation has many other URL’s which point to itself such as RoboBoat.org and RoboSub.org pointing to their areas in the same website. This foundation promotes an annual competition for building and operating autonomous vehicles for both surface and underwater navigation as well as many other categories.

The AUVSIfoundation is supporting the development of fully autonomous operation. That means there is no human intervention once the vehicle is launched. It is totally computer directed using whatever sensors and outputs within its control. It is a very demanding system to design and keep operational. The point of this all is the competition and the resulting education and not to make design and control easy.

I love that robotic concept of being fully autonomous.

My goal is far less demanding. I would like to keep the human interface although I don’t rule out autonomous operation as an option. My thought is to not eliminate with robotics the desire that exists for typical direct human model control. That interface system works just fine.

The correct term for what I envision is a semi-autonomous aquatic robot with some programmed decision making of its own.The human interface will be just another input/output to the control system. What makes it clearly a qualified robot is that it should respond to its own sensors such as maintaining a course through compass or GPS sense or perhaps find its way “home” or to a goal when directed.

All the other bits I am considering are enhancements to the modeling experience. Data feedback to the operator is I think a new experience for model builders. Since I am thinking of boats that actually look like boats (not robots) I believe scale model animatronics is a good description of my vision.

I have already had folks comment about commercial robotic application for small semi-autonomous water craft. It’s far from the scale model animatronics application but the control strategy would be much the same. SONAR pulses and GPS location with accurate grid mapping could be used to look for underwater objects in cold or cloudy water in lakes and ponds before divers are sent down. Sunken boats, cars, deep holes, etc might be determined depending on the quality of the sonar.

I think this may (probably) already exist in an expensive commercial product. But the challenge is to do it low budget. It is all pipe dreams right now but it does expand the possibilities where this concept may extend for the personal experimenter. Whatever floats your boat, so to speak?

What I would like to do at this point is to see what others have to say and may be doing in the less competitive development of robotic water craft. I will dig into this on my own if I have to. I’ll likely be doing my own thing anyway. It just seems to be what I do… but it would be nice to have others around for sharing experience. To that goal, I am ah… “launching” this new blog I am calling RoboBoatBlog.net (Now Offline)

I will open the Blog publishing privileges to any serious hobbyist who is actually pursuing (any stage of) non competitive semi-autonomous aquatic robot research and development. Just tell me you have something to contribute. Interested readers are invited to make comments or ask questions.

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